|Popeye the Sailor Man|
|Thimble Theatre/Popeye character|
|First appearance||Thimble Theatre (1929)|
|Created by||E. C. Segar|
|Portrayed by||Gus Wickie (1933–1939 public appearances)|
Harry Foster Welch (1934–1940s public events and amusement parks, Pleasure Island)
Robin Williams (1980 film)
|Full name||Popeye the Sailor|
|Significant other||Olive Oyl|
Popeye the Sailor Man is a fictional cartoon character created by Elzie Crisler Segar. The character first appeared on January 17, 1929, in the daily King Features comic strip Thimble Theatre. The strip was in its tenth year when Popeye made his debut, but the one-eyed sailor quickly became the lead character, and Thimble Theatre became one of King Features' most popular properties during the 1930s. After Segar died in 1938, Thimble Theatre was continued by several writers and artists, most notably Segar's assistant Bud Sagendorf. It was formally renamed Popeye. The strip continues to appear in first-run installments on Sundays, written and drawn by R.K. Milholland. The daily strips are reprints of old Sagendorf stories.
In 1933, Max Fleischer adapted the Thimble Theatre characters into a series of Popeye the Sailor theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures. These cartoons proved to be among the most popular of the 1930s, and Fleischer Studios, which later became Paramount's own Famous Studios, continued production through 1957. Cartoons produced during World War II included Allied propaganda, as was common among cartoons of the time. These cartoon shorts are now owned by Turner Entertainment and distributed by its sister company Warner Bros.
Over the years, Popeye has also appeared in comic books, television cartoons, video games, hundreds of advertisements, peripheral products ranging from spinach to candy cigarettes, and the 1980 live-action film directed by Robert Altman and starring Robin Williams as Popeye.
Charles M. Schulz said, "I think Popeye was a perfect comic strip, consistent in drawing and humor". In 2002, TV Guide ranked Popeye number 20 on its "50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time" list.
Popeye's story and characterization vary depending on the medium. Originally, Popeye got "luck" from rubbing the head of the Whiffle Hen; by 1932, he was instead getting "strength" from eating spinach. Swee'Pea is Popeye's ward in the comic strips, but his custody is inconsistent in cartoons.
There is no absolute sense of continuity in the stories, although certain plot and presentation elements remain mostly constant, including purposeful contradictions in Popeye's capabilities. Popeye seems bereft of manners and uneducated, yet he often comes up with solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to the police or the scientific community. He has displayed Sherlock Holmes-like investigative prowess, scientific ingenuity, and successful diplomatic arguments. In the animated cartoons his pipe also proves to be highly versatile. Among other things, it has served as a cutting torch, jet engine, propeller, periscope, musical instrument, and a whistle with which he produces his trademark toot. He also eats spinach through his pipe, sometimes sucking in the can along with the contents. Since the 1970s, Popeye is seldom depicted using his pipe to smoke tobacco.
Popeye's exploits are also enhanced by a few recurring plot elements. One is the love triangle among Popeye, Olive, and Bluto (sometimes called Brutus), and Bluto's endless machinations to claim Olive at Popeye's expense. Another is his near-saintly perseverance in overcoming any obstacle to please Olive, who often (if temporarily) renounces Popeye for Bluto.
|Author(s)||E. C. Segar (creator, December 1919–December 1937, May-August 1938)|
Doc Winner (December 1937-May 1938)
Tom Sims & Doc Winner (August 1938-December 1939)
Tom Sims & Bela Zaboly (December 1939-December 1954 (daily strip), December 1939-September 1959 (Sunday strip))
Ralph Stein & Bela Zaboly (December 1954-August 1959, daily strip only)
Bud Sagendorf (August 1959-February 1986 (daily strip), September 1959-September 1994 (Sunday strip))
Bobby London (February 1986-July 1992, daily strip only)
Hy Eisman (September 1994-May 2022, Sunday strip only)
R. K. Milholland (June 2022–present, Sunday strip only)
|Current status/schedule||New strips on Sundays, reprints Monday through Saturday|
|Launch date||December 19, 1919|
|End date||July 30, 1992 (last first-run daily strip, Sunday strips continue)|
|Syndicate(s)||King Features Syndicate|
|Publisher(s)||King Features Syndicate|
Segar's Thimble Theatre debuted in the New York Journal on December 19, 1919. The paper's owner, William Randolph Hearst, also owned King Features Syndicate, which syndicated the strip. Thimble Theatre was intended as a replacement for Midget Movies by Ed Wheelan (Wheelan having recently resigned from King Features). While initially failing to attract a large audience, the strip nonetheless increasingly accumulated a modest following as the 1920s continued. At the end of its first decade, the strip resultantly appeared in over a dozen newspapers and had acquired a corresponding Sunday strip (which had debuted on January 25, 1925 within the Hearst-owned New York American paper).
Thimble Theatre's first main characters were the lanky, long-nosed slacker Harold Hamgravy (rapidly shortened to simply "Ham Gravy") and his headstrong, neurotic girlfriend Olive Oyl. In its earliest weeks, the strip featured the duo, alongside a rotating cast of primarily one-shot characters, acting out various stories and scenarios in a parodic theatrical style (hence the strip's name). As its first year progressed, however, numerous elements of this premise would be relinquished (including the recurring character "Willie Wormwood", introduced as a parody of melodrama villainy), soon rendering the strip a series of episodic comic anecdotes depicting the daily life and dysfunctional romantic exploits of Ham Gravy and Olive Oyl. It could be classified as a gag-a-day comic in those days. In mid-1922, Segar began to increasingly engage in lengthier (often months-long) storylines; by the end of the following year, the strip had effectively transitioned fully into a comedy-adventure style focalizing Ham, Olive, and Olive's ambitious-but-myopic diminutive brother Castor Oyl, initially a minor character yet arguably the protagonist of the strip by 1924. Castor and Olive's parents Cole and Nana Oyl also made frequent appearances. By the late 1920s, the strip had likewise acquired a number of notable characters beyond the sphere of Ham Gravy and the Oyl family, including Castor Oyl's wife Cylinda (to whom he was married from 1926 to 1928), her wealthy, misanthropic father Mr. Lotts and Castor's fighting cockerel Blizzard, all of whom had vanished or more explicitly exited the strip by the close of 1928.
Popeye first appeared in the strip on January 17, 1929, as a minor character. He was initially hired by Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy to crew a ship for a voyage to Dice Island, the location of a casino owned by the crooked gambler Fadewell. Castor intended to break the bank at the casino using the unbeatable good luck conferred by stroking the hairs on the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen. Weeks later, on the trip back, Popeye was shot many times by Jack Snork, a stooge of Fadewell's, but survived by rubbing Bernice's head. After the adventure, Popeye left the strip, but, owing to reader reaction, he was brought back after an absence of only five weeks.
Ultimately, the Popeye character became so popular that he was given a larger role by the following year, and the strip was taken up by many more newspapers as a result. Initial strips presented Olive as being less than impressed with Popeye, but she eventually left Ham to become Popeye's girlfriend, precipitating Ham's exit as a regular in mid-1930. Over the years, however, she has often displayed a fickle attitude towards the sailor. Initially, Castor Oyl continued to come up with get-rich-quick schemes and enlisted Popeye in his misadventures. By 1932, however, he settled down as a detective and later on bought a ranch out west. Castor's appearances have resultantly become sparser over time. As Castor faded from the strip, J. Wellington Wimpy, a soft-spoken and eloquent yet cowardly hamburger-loving moocher who would "gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" was introduced into the Sunday strip, in which he became a fixture by late 1932. After first appearing in the daily strip in March 1933, Wimpy became a full-time major character alongside Popeye and Olive.
In July 1933, Popeye received a foundling baby in the mail whom he adopted and named Swee'Pea. Other regular characters introduced into the strip following its retool in 1930 were George W. Geezil, an irascible cobbler who spoke in a heavily affected accent and habitually attempted to murder or wish death upon Wimpy; Rough-House, the temperamental owner of a budget diner who served as a long-suffering foil to Wimpy; Eugene the Jeep, a yellow, vaguely doglike animal from Africa with magical powers; the Sea Hag, a terrible pirate and the last witch on Earth; Alice the Goon, a monstrous creature who entered the strip as the Sea Hag's henchwoman and continued as Swee'Pea's babysitter; the hapless, perpetually anxious King Blozo; Popeye's lecherous, superannuated father Poopdeck Pappy; and Toar, an ageless, dim-witted caveman.
Segar's strip was quite different from the theatrical cartoons that followed. The stories were more complex (often spanning months), with many characters that never appeared in the cartoons (among them King Blozo, Toar, and Rough-House). Spinach usage, a trait introduced in July 1931, was comparatively infrequent, and Bluto appeared within only one single story arc. Segar signed some of his early Popeye comic strips with a cigar, his last name being a homophone of "cigar" (pronounced SEE-gar). Comics historian Brian Walker stated: "Segar offered up a masterful blend of comedy, fantasy, satire and suspense in Thimble Theater Starring Popeye".
Owing to Popeye's increasingly high profile, Thimble Theatre became one of King Features' most popular strips during the 1930s. A poll of adult comic strip readers in the April 1937 issue of Fortune magazine voted Popeye their second-favorite comic strip (after Little Orphan Annie). By 1938, Thimble Theatre was running in 500 newspapers, and over 600 licensed "Popeye" products were on sale. The success of the strip meant Segar was earning $100,000 a year at the time of his death. The strip continued after Segar's death in 1938; a series of artists performed the work. Following an eventual name change to Popeye in the 1970s, the comic remains one of the longest-running strips in syndication today.
Thimble Theatre had a number of topper strips on the Sunday page during its run; the main topper, Sappo, ran for 21 years, from February 28, 1926, to May 18, 1947. (Sappo was a revival of an earlier Segar daily strip called The Five-Fifteen, aka Sappo the Commuter, which ran from February 9, 1921, to February 17, 1925.) For seven weeks in 1936, Segar replaced Sappo with Pete and Pansy – For Kids Only (Sept 27 - Nov 8, 1936).
There were also a series of topper panel strips that ran next to Sappo. Segar drew one of them, Popeye's Cartoon Club (April 8, 1934 – May 5, 1935). The rest were produced by Joe Musial and Bud Sagendorf: Wiggle Line Movie (September 11 – November 13, 1938), Wimpy's Zoo's Who (November 20, 1938 – December 1, 1940), Play-Store (December 8, 1940 – July 18, 1943), Popeye's Army and Navy (July 25 – September 12, 1943), Pinup Jeep (September 19, 1943 - April 2, 1944), and Me Life by Popeye (April 9, 1944-?).
Following Segar's illness and eventual death in 1938 (with his final Thimble Theatre strip appearing October 2 of that year), numerous people were hired to draw and write the strip. Tom Sims, the son of a Coosa River channel-boat captain, acted as the writer for Thimble Theatre beginning in August 1938 and established the Popeye the Sailorman spin-off. Doc Winner, who had previously filled in for Segar between January and May 1938, initially acted as Sims' artist, with Bela Zaboly succeeding him by December 1939. In 1954, Sims relinquished writing duties on the daily strip to Ralph Stein, who would continue to collaborate with Zaboly until both the daily and Sunday strips were taken over by Bud Sagendorf in 1959.
Sagendorf wrote and drew the daily strip until 1986, and continued to write and draw the Sunday strip until his death in 1994. Sagendorf, who had been Segar's assistant, made a definite effort to retain much of Segar's classic style, although his art is instantly discernible. Sagendorf continued to use many obscure characters from the Segar years, especially O. G. Wotasnozzle and King Blozo. Sagendorf's new characters, such as the Thung, also had a very Segar-like quality. What set Sagendorf apart from Segar more than anything else was his sense of pacing. Where plotlines moved very quickly with Segar, it sometimes took an entire week of Sagendorf's daily strips for the plot to be advanced even a small amount.
From 1986 to 1992, the daily strip was written and drawn by Bobby London, who, after some controversy, was fired from the strip for a story that could be taken to satirize abortion. London's strips put Popeye and his friends in updated situations, but kept the spirit of Segar's original. One classic storyline, titled "The Return of Bluto", showed the sailor battling every version of the bearded bully from the comic strip, comic books, and animated films. The Sunday edition of the comic strip was drawn by Hy Eisman from 1994 to 2022. Following Eisman's retirement, the Sunday strip was taken over by R.K. Milholland, who had previously contributed Popeye cartoons to the web-only feature Popeye's Cartoon Club in 2019 and 2020. The daily strip has featured reruns of Sagendorf's strips since London's firing.
On January 1, 2009, 70 years since the death of his creator, Segar's comic strips (though not the various films, TV shows, theme music, and other media based on them) became public domain in most countries, but remain under copyright in the US. Because Segar was an employee of King Features Syndicate when he created the Thimble Theatre strip, it is treated as a work for hire under US copyright law. Works for hire are protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. As of 2023, Thimble Theatre comic strips from 1919 through 1927 have entered the public domain, none of which feature Popeye. Even after the strips enter the public domain, trademarks regarding Popeye remain with King Features, as trademarks do not expire unless they cease to be used, and King Features has used the trademark continuously since the character's debut.
There have been a number of Popeye comic books, from Dell, King Comics, Gold Key Comics, Charlton Comics, and others, originally written and illustrated by Bud Sagendorf. In the Dell comics, Popeye became something of a crimefighter, thwarting evil organizations and Bluto's criminal activities. The new villains included the numerous Misermite dwarfs, who were all identical.
Popeye appeared in the British TV Comic becoming the cover story in 1960 with stories written and drawn by "Chick" Henderson. Bluto was referred to as Brutus and was Popeye's only nemesis throughout the entire run.
A variety of artists have created Popeye comic book stories since then; for example, George Wildman drew Popeye stories for Charlton Comics from 1969 until the late 1970s. The Gold Key series was illustrated by Wildman and scripted by Bill Pearson, with some issues written by Nick Cuti.
Popeye even had his own Manga series, published by Shōnen Gahōsha and done by Robotan and Marude Dameo creator Kenji Morita, that ran from 1961 to 1965.
In 1988, Ocean Comics released the Popeye Special written by Ron Fortier with art by Ben Dunn. The story presented Popeye's origin story, including his given name of "Ugly Kidd" and attempted to tell more of a lighthearted adventure story as opposed to using typical comic strip style humor. The story also featured a more realistic art style and was edited by Bill Pearson, who also lettered and inked the story as well as the front cover. A second issue, by the same creative team, followed in 1988. The second issue introduced the idea that Bluto and Brutus were actually twin brothers and not the same person, an idea also used in the comic strip on December 28, 2008, and April 5, 2009. In 1999, to celebrate Popeye's 70th anniversary, Ocean Comics revisited the franchise with a one-shot comic book, The Wedding of Popeye and Olive Oyl, written by Peter David. The comic book brought together a large portion of the casts of both the comic strip and the animated shorts, and Popeye and Olive Oyl were finally wed after decades of courtship. However, this marriage has not been reflected in all media since the comic was published.
In 1989, a special series of short Popeye comic books were included in specially marked boxes of Instant Quaker Oatmeal, and Popeye also appeared in three TV commercials for Quaker Oatmeal. The plots were similar to those of the cartoon shorts: Popeye loses either Olive Oyl or Swee'Pea to a musclebound antagonist, eats something invigorating, and proceeds to save the day. In this case, however, the invigorating elixir was not his usual spinach, but rather one of four flavors of Quaker Oatmeal (a different flavor was showcased with each mini-comic). The comics ended with the sailor saying, "I'm Popeye the Quaker Man!", which offended members of the Religious Society of Friends (a.k.a. Quakers). The Quaker Oatmeal company apologized and removed the "Popeye the Quaker Man" reference from commercials and future comic book printings.
In 2012, writer Roger Langridge teamed with cartoonists Bruce Ozella, Ken Wheaton, and Tom Neely (among others) to revive the spirit of Segar in a 12-issue comic book miniseries published by IDW Publishing. Critic PS Hayes in reviewing the series stated:
Langridge writes a story with a lot of dialogue (compared to your average comic book) and it's all necessary, funny, and entertaining. Bruce Ozella draws the perfect Popeye. Not only Popeye, but Popeye's whole world. Everything looks like it should, cartoony and goofy. Plus, he brings an unusual amount of detail to something that doesn't really need it. You'll swear that you're looking at an old Whitman Comics issue of Popeye, only it's better. Ozella is a great storyteller and even though the issue is jam packed with dialog, the panels never look cramped at all.
In late 2012, IDW began reprinting the original 1940s–1950s Sagendorf Popeye comic books under the title of Classic Popeye.
In January 2019, in celebration of its 90 years of character, King Feature Syndicate launched the webcomic Popeye's Cartoon Club. In a series of Sunday-format comics, a wide assortment of artists depicted the characters in their own styles in one comic each, including Alex Hallatt, Erica Henderson, Tom Neely, Roger Langridge, Larry deSouza, Robert Sikoryak, Jeffrey Brown, Jim Engel, Liniers, Jay Fosgitt, Carol Lay, and Randy Milholland. At the end of the year, Milholland's Cartoon Club comic was declared the number one comic of the year on King Features' website, Comics Kingdom. From February through April 2020, Cartoon Club ran an additional five comics by Milholland.
From May 28 through July 6, 2020, Popeye's Cartoon Club ran daily comics from Randy Milholland, making Milholland the first person to write a daily-update Popeye comic for King Features since 1994.
Main article: Popeye the Sailor (film series)
In November 1932, King Features signed an agreement with Fleischer Studios to have Popeye and the other Thimble Theatre characters begin appearing in a series of animated cartoons released by Paramount Pictures. The first cartoon in the series was released in 1933, and Popeye cartoons remained a staple of Paramount's release schedule for nearly 25 years. William Costello was the original voice of Popeye, a voice that was replicated by later performers, such as Jack Mercer and even Mae Questel. Many of the Thimble Theatre characters, including Wimpy, Poopdeck Pappy, and Eugene the Jeep, eventually made appearances in the Paramount cartoons, though Olive Oyl's extended family and Ham Gravy were mostly absent. Thanks to the animated-short series, Popeye became even more of a sensation than he had been in comic strips, and by 1938, polls showed that the sailor was Hollywood's most popular cartoon character.
Although Segar may have used spinach as a prop a few times, it was Max Fleischer who realized its potential as a trademark. In every Popeye cartoon, the sailor is invariably put into what seems like a hopeless situation, upon which (usually after a beating), a can of spinach becomes available, and Popeye quickly opens the can and consumes its contents. Upon swallowing the spinach, Popeye's physical strength immediately becomes superhuman, and he is easily able to save the day, and very often rescue Olive Oyl from a dire situation. It did not stop there, as spinach could also give Popeye the skills and powers he needed, as in The Man on the Flying Trapeze, where it gave him acrobatic skills.
In May 1942, Paramount Pictures assumed ownership of Fleischer Studios, fired the Fleischers and began reorganizing the studio, which they renamed Famous Studios. The early Famous-era shorts were often World War II-themed, featuring Popeye fighting Nazi Germans and Japanese soldiers, most notably the 1942 short You're a Sap, Mr. Jap. In late 1943, the Popeye series began to be produced in Technicolor, beginning with Her Honor the Mare. Famous/Paramount continued producing the Popeye series until 1957, with Spooky Swabs being the last of the 125 Famous shorts in the series. Paramount then sold the Popeye film catalog to Associated Artists Productions, which was bought out by United Artists in 1958. Through various mergers, the rights are currently controlled by Warner Bros. Discovery.
In 2001, Cartoon Network, under the supervision of animation historian Jerry Beck, created a new incarnation of The Popeye Show. The show aired the Fleischer and Famous Studios Popeye shorts in versions approximating their original theatrical releases by editing copies of the original opening and closing credits (taken or recreated from various sources) onto the beginnings and ends of each cartoon, or in some cases, in their complete, uncut original theatrical versions direct from such prints that originally contained the front-and-end Paramount credits. The series aired 135 Popeye shorts over 45 episodes, until March 2004. The Popeye Show continued to air on Cartoon Network's spin-off network Boomerang.
While many of the Paramount Popeye cartoons remained unavailable on video, a handful of those cartoons had fallen into public domain and were found on numerous low budget VHS tapes and later DVDs. When Turner Entertainment acquired the cartoons in 1986, a long and laborious legal struggle with King Features kept the majority of the original Popeye shorts from official video releases for more than 20 years. King Features instead opted to release a DVD boxed set of the 1960s made-for-television Popeye the Sailor cartoons, to which it retained the rights, in 2004. In the meantime, home video rights to the Associated Artists Productions library were transferred from CBS/Fox Video to MGM/UA Home Video in 1986, and eventually to Warner Home Video in 1999. In 2006, Warner Home Video announced it would release all of the Popeye cartoons produced for theatrical release between 1933 and 1957 on DVD, restored and uncut. Three volumes were released between 2007 and 2008, covering all of the black-and-white cartoons produced from 1933 to 1943. In December 2018, a fourth volume featuring the first 14 color shorts from 1943 to 1945 was released on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video through the Warner Archive Collection.
In 1960, King Features Syndicate commissioned a new series of cartoons titled Popeye the Sailor, but this time for television syndication. Al Brodax served as executive producer of the cartoons for King Features. Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Jackson Beck returned for this series, which was produced by a number of companies, including Jack Kinney Productions, Rembrandt Films (William L. Snyder and Gene Deitch), Larry Harmon Productions, Halas and Batchelor, Paramount Cartoon Studios (formerly Famous Studios), and Southern Star Entertainment (formerly Southern Star Productions). The artwork was streamlined and simplified for the television budgets, and 220 cartoons were produced in only two years, with the first set of them premiering in the autumn of 1960, and the last of them debuting during the 1961–1962 television season. For these cartoons, Bluto's name was changed to "Brutus", as King Features believed at the time that Paramount owned the rights to the name "Bluto". Many of the cartoons made by Paramount used plots and storylines taken directly from the comic strip sequences – as well as characters like King Blozo and the Sea Hag. Since King Features has exclusive rights to these Popeye cartoons, they have been released on home video, with 85 of them included in a 75th anniversary Popeye DVD boxed set in 2004.
Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea and Wimpy were featured prominently in the cartoon movie "Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter", which debuted on October 7, 1972, as one of the episodes of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie. In this cartoon, Brutus also appears as a turban-wearing employee of the nemesis, Dr. Morbid Grimsby.
On September 9, 1978, The All New Popeye Hour debuted on the CBS Saturday morning lineup. It was an hour-long animated series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, which tried its best to retain the style of the original comic strip (Popeye returned to his original costume and Brutus to his original name of Bluto), while complying with the prevailing content restrictions on violence. In addition to providing many of the cartoon scripts, Mercer continued to voice Popeye, while Marilyn Schreffler and Allan Melvin became the new voices of Olive Oyl and Bluto, respectively. The All New Popeye Hour ran on CBS until September 1981, when it was cut to a half-hour and retitled The Popeye and Olive Comedy Show. It was removed from the CBS lineup in September 1983, the year before Jack Mercer's death. These cartoons have also been released on VHS and DVD.
During the time these cartoons were in production, CBS aired The Popeye Valentine's Day Special – Sweethearts at Sea on February 14, 1979.
Popeye briefly returned to CBS in 1987 for Popeye and Son, another Hanna-Barbera series, which featured Popeye and Olive as a married couple with a son named Popeye Jr., who hates the taste of spinach, but eats it to boost his strength. Maurice LaMarche performed Popeye's voice as Mercer had died in 1984. The show lasted for one season. USA Network later picked up reruns of the series after CBS's cancellation.
In 2004, Lionsgate produced a computer-animated television special, Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Popeye. Billy West performed the voice of Popeye, describing the production as "the hardest job I ever did, ever" and the voice of Popeye as "like a buzzsaw on your throat". The uncut version was released on DVD on November 9, 2004; and was aired in a re-edited version on Fox on December 17, 2004, and again on December 30, 2005. Its style was influenced by the 1930s Fleischer cartoons, and featured Swee'Pea, Wimpy, Bluto, Olive Oyl, Poopdeck Pappy, and the Sea Hag as its characters. On November 6, 2007, Lionsgate re-released Popeye's Voyage on DVD with redesigned cover art.
On December 2, 2018, a Popeye web series named Popeye's Island Adventures produced by WildBrain subsidiary WildBrain Spark Studios premiered on the official Popeye YouTube channel. With intent on drawing in a younger, contemporary, international audience, the new series has updated the Popeye characters to fit the times. For instance, Popeye grows his own spinach and has replaced his corncob pipe with a bosun's whistle. Bluto no longer sports a beard and focuses his time on stealing Popeye's spinach rather than his girlfriend. Olive Oyl is shown as an inventor and engineer. The characters are drawn to appear younger than typically done, save Swea'pea, and no words are spoken, with all actions mimed.
|"I'm Popeye the Sailor Man"|
|Song by William Costello|
later by Jack Mercer
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm strong to the "finich"
'cause I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
Popeye's theme song, titled "I'm Popeye The Sailor Man", composed by Sammy Lerner in 1933 for Fleischer's first Popeye the Sailor cartoon, has become forever associated with the sailor. "The Sailor's Hornpipe" has often been used as an introduction to Popeye's theme song.
A cover of the theme song, performed by Face to Face, is included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records. A jazz version, performed by Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet, appears on their 2009 Summit Records release Underdog and Other Stories.
Playground song parodies of the theme have become part of children's street culture around the world, usually interpolating "frying pan" or "garbage can" into the lyrics as Popeye's dwelling place and ascribing to the character various unsavory actions or habits that transform the character into an "Anti-Popeye", and changing his exemplary spinach-based diet into an inedible morass of worms, onions, flies, tortillas and snot.
The success of Popeye as a comic-strip and animated character has led to appearances in many other forms. For more than 20 years, Stephen DeStefano has been the artist drawing Popeye for King Features licensing.
Popeye was adapted to radio in several series broadcast over three different networks by two sponsors from 1935 to 1938. Popeye and most of the major supporting characters were first featured in a thrice-weekly 15-minute radio program, Popeye the Sailor, which starred Detmar Poppen as Popeye, along with most of the major supporting characters—Olive Oyl (Olive Lamoy), Wimpy (Charles Lawrence), Bluto (Jackson Beck) and Swee'Pea (Mae Questel). In the first episode, Popeye adopted Sonny (Jimmy Donnelly), a character later known as Matey the Newsboy. This program was broadcast Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights at 7:15pm. September 10, 1935, through March 28, 1936, on the NBC Red Network (87 episodes), initially sponsored by Wheatena, a whole-wheat breakfast cereal, which routinely replaced the spinach references. Music was provided by Victor Irwin's Cartoonland Band. Announcer Kelvin Keech sang (to composer Lerner's "Popeye" theme) "Wheatena is his diet / He asks you to try it / With Popeye the sailor man." Wheatena paid King Features Syndicate $1,200 per week.
The show was next broadcast Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 7:15 to 7:30pm on WABC and ran from August 31, 1936, to February 26, 1937 (78 episodes). Floyd Buckley played Popeye, and Miriam Wolfe portrayed both Olive Oyl and the Sea Hag. Once again, reference to spinach was conspicuously absent. Instead, Popeye sang, "Wheatena's me diet / I ax ya to try it / I'm Popeye the Sailor Man".
The third series was sponsored by the maker of Popsicles three nights a week for 15 minutes at 6:15 pm on CBS from May 2, 1938, through July 29, 1938.
Of the three series, only 20 of the 204 episodes are known to be preserved.
Main article: Popeye (film)
Director Robert Altman used the character in Popeye, a 1980 live-action musical feature film, starring Robin Williams as Popeye. A co-production of Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions, the movie was filmed almost entirely on Malta, in the village of Mellieħa on the northwest coast of the island. The set is now a tourist attraction called Popeye Village. The US box office earnings were double the film's budget, making it a financial success. However, the film received mostly negative reviews.
In March 2010, it was reported that Sony Pictures Animation was developing a 3D computer-animated Popeye film, with Avi Arad producing it. In November 2011, Sony Pictures Animation announced that Jay Scherick and David Ronn, the writers of The Smurfs, are writing the screenplay for the film. In June 2012, it was reported that Genndy Tartakovsky had been set to direct the feature, which he planned to make "as artful and unrealistic as possible." In November 2012, Sony Pictures Animation set the release date for September 26, 2014, which was, in May 2013, pushed back to 2015. In March 2014, Sony Pictures Animation updated its slate, scheduling the film for 2016, and announcing Tartakovsky as the director of Hotel Transylvania 2, which he was directing concurrently with Popeye. On September 18, 2014, Tartakovsky revealed an "animation test" footage, about which he said, "It's just something that kind of represents what we want to do. I couldn't be more excited by how it turned out." In March 2015, Tartakovsky announced that despite the well-received test footage, he was no longer working on the project, and would instead direct Can You Imagine?, which is based on his own original idea, but it too was cancelled. Nevertheless, Sony Pictures Animation stated the project still remains in active development. In January 2016, it was announced that T.J. Fixman would write the film. On May 11, 2020, it was announced that a Popeye movie is in development at King Features Syndicate with Genndy Tartakovsky coming back to the project. However, on July 21, 2022, Genndy has said the project was dead. An animatic for the movie was later leaked onto the internet on July 22, 2022.
From early on, Popeye was heavily merchandised. Everything from soap to razor blades to spinach was available with Popeye's likeness on it. Most of these items are rare and sought by collectors, but some merchandise is still produced.
Chester, Illinois, Segar's hometown, erected a statue of Popeye in Segar's honor in 1977 and began the Popeye & Friends Character Trail in 2006, adding new statues honoring the other Thimble Theater characters each year.
This Character Trail is spread throughout Chester and includes (with unveiling dates):
Frank "Rocky" Fiegel (born in Chester, Illinois, January 27, 1868) was the real-life inspiration for the character Popeye. His parents Bartłomiej and Anna H. Fiegiel had come from the area of the Greater Poland Voivodeship, then part of Prussia, and migrated to the United States. He had a prominent chin, sinewy physique, characteristic pipe, and a propensity and agile skill for fist-fighting. Fiegel died on March 24, 1947, never having married. His gravestone has an image of Popeye engraved on it. E. C. Segar regularly sent money to Fiegel (as a thank you for the inspiration) according to Segar's assistant and successor, Bud Sagendorf and Popeye historian Michael Brooks.
Additional hometown residents of Chester have served as inspiration for other Segar characters, including Dora Paskel, an uncommonly tall, angular lady who ran a general store in town, who was the origin for Popeye's gal, Olive Oyl. She even wore a hair bun close to her neckline. William "Windy Bill" Schuchert, a rather rotund man who owned the local opera house (and was Segar's early employer), was the seed for the character J. Wellington Wimpy. He even sent out his employees to purchase hamburgers for him between performances at a local tavern named Wiebusch's, the same tavern that Fiegel frequented and where he engaged in fistfights.
Conjecture presented in a 2009 book raised the idea that while living in Santa Monica, Segar might have based some of Popeye's language on a local fisherman; even though the article never made a definitive claim.
Culturally, many consider Popeye a precursor to the superheroes who eventually dominated US comic books.
Such has been Popeye's cultural impact that the medical profession sometimes refers to the biceps bulge symptomatic of a tendon rupture as the "Popeye muscle."
In 1973, Cary Bates created Captain Strong, a takeoff of Popeye, for DC Comics, as a way of having two cultural icons – Superman and (a proxy of) Popeye – meet.
The 1981 Nintendo videogame Donkey Kong, which introduced its eponymous character and Nintendo's unofficial company mascot Mario to the world, was originally planned to be a Popeye game. Mario (then known as Jumpman) was originally supposed to be Popeye, Donkey Kong was originally Bluto, and the character Pauline was originally Olive Oyl, but when Nintendo was unable to acquire the rights to use the actual franchise characters, it decided to create original characters instead.
The 1988 Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures film Who Framed Roger Rabbit featured many classic cartoon characters, and the absence of Popeye was noted by some critics. Popeye (along with Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy) actually had a cameo role planned for the film. However, Disney could not obtain the rights in time and Popeye's cameo was dropped from the film.
The Popeye was a popular dance in the dance craze era of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originating in New Orleans around 1962, the Popeye was performed by shuffling and moving one's arms, placing one arm behind and one arm in front and alternating them, going through the motion of raising a pipe up to the mouth, and alternate sliding or pushing one foot back in the manner of ice skating, similar to motions exhibited by the cartoon character. According to music historian Robert Pruter, the Popeye was even more popular than the Twist in New Orleans. The dance was associated with and/or referenced to in several songs, including Eddie Bo's "Check Mr. Popeye," Chris Kenner's "Something You Got" and "Land of a Thousand Dances," Frankie Ford's "You Talk Too Much," Ernie K-Doe's "Popeye Joe," Huey "Piano" Smith's "Popeye," and Harvey Fuqua's "Any Way You Wanta." A compilation of 23 Popeye dance songs was released in 1996 under the title New Orleans Popeye Party.
Initially Popeye's chief superhuman characteristic was his indestructibility, rather than super strength, which was attributed to his having rubbed the head of Bernice the Whiffle Hen numerous times after being shot. Popeye later attributed his strength to spinach. The popularity of Popeye helped boost spinach sales. Using Popeye as a role model for healthier eating may work; a 2010 study revealed that children increased their vegetable consumption after watching Popeye cartoons. The spinach-growing community of Crystal City, Texas, erected a statue of the character in recognition of Popeye's positive effects on the spinach industry. There are also statues in Springdale and Alma, Arkansas (which claims to be "The Spinach Capital of the World"), at canning plants of Allen Canning, which markets Popeye-branded canned spinach. In addition to Allen Canning's Popeye spinach, Popeye Fresh Foods markets bagged, fresh spinach with Popeye characters on the package. In 2006, when spinach contaminated with E. coli was accidentally sold to the public, many editorial cartoonists lampooned the affair by featuring Popeye in their cartoons.
A frequently circulated story claims that Fleischer's choice of spinach to give Popeye strength was based on faulty calculations of its iron content. In the story, a scientist misplaced a decimal point in an 1870 measurement of spinach's iron content, leading to an iron value ten times higher than it should have been. The error was not a slipped decimal point but a measurement error which was corrected in the 1930s, however the myth of extraordinarily high iron content persisted.
The strip is also responsible for popularizing, although not inventing, the word "goon" (meaning a thug or lackey); goons in Popeye's world were large humanoids with indistinctly drawn faces that were particularly known for being used as muscle and slave labor by Popeye's nemesis, the Sea Hag. One particular goon, the aforementioned female named Alice, was an occasional recurring character in the animated shorts, but she was usually a fairly nice character.
Eugene the Jeep was introduced in the comic strip on March 13, 1936. Two years later the term "jeep wagons" was in use, later shortened to simply "jeep" with widespread World War II usage and then trademarked by Willys-Overland as "Jeep".
The Popeye Picnic is held every year in Chester, Illinois, on the weekend after Labor Day. Popeye fans attend from across the globe, including a visit by a film crew from South Korea in 2004. The one-eyed sailor's hometown strives to entertain devotees of all ages.
In honor of Popeye's 75th anniversary, the Empire State Building illuminated its notable tower lights green the weekend of January 16–18, 2004 as a tribute to the icon's love of spinach. This special lighting marked the only time the Empire State Building ever celebrated the anniversary/birthday of a comic strip character.
"Shape Ahoy" is notable for being the cartoon where Mae Questel did Popeye's voice (Jack Mercer having enlisted and only being sporadically on tap). We know that Questel claimed to have supplied the voice on occasion, and that she did her Popeye for Leonard Maltin and he was impressed. Some have said that if her voice was ever used, it must have been slowed down, but that's unlikely in my opinion, and I see no reason why the voice heard in "Shape Ahoy", which is almost like a prolonged belch, couldn't have been done by a woman. So I vote Mae, for that title at least.
...for some reason he chiefly features in verses which are obscene.
Each parody creates a fictive world that stands as a miniature rite of rebellion, a vision of a counter-factual world inhabited by worm-eating garbage-can residents, and tortilla-wielding aunt-killers. The exemplary Popeye is converted into an anti-Popeye, exhibiting filthy and murderous qualities obviously anathema to the conventional etiquette.
Miyamoto says Nintendo's main monkey might not have existed.